Temps at Big Bear Lake are rising to the 60s and 70s, but all that means for spring skiers and snowboarders is shedding heavy coats for T-shirts and, of course, lower prices for just about everything on the mountain.
Bear Mountain Resort and Snow Summit Mountain Resort heralded in the spring season March 10 with a drop in full-day lift tickets from $72 to $59 for adults and $62 to $49 for 13 and up. Kids under six are always free with a paying adult. Besides discounted prices, which extend to lodging and local retailers, the benefits of spring skiing abound, including shorter lines for chair lifts and rentals, wide open slopes and easy parking at the resorts.
On our recent three-day spring getaway, our family stayed at Blue Horizons Lodge, an adorable complex of cottages tucked away off the main boulevard about 200 yards from the lake and within minutes of the ski resorts. The website photos did not do the place justice, as we were pleasantly surprised to find our rustic little cottage-away-from-home very tidy, decorated with cute lake-themed accents and updated furnishings and equipped with everything we needed for our stay. The wood-burning fireplace kept us cozy, and my son was thrilled with the XBox 360 and the library of DVDs for our evening entertainment.
The property also had a pool (closed for winter), BBQ area with picnic tables, volleyball pit, horse shoe course and a vintage seesaw and train handcar that my son loved pumping around its circular track. The inn keeper, Sharon, a grandmother of 14, was a wealth of information about where families can go to eat and have fun around town, and she clued us in to several deals and discounts at Big Bear businesses.
We opted to arrive late in the afternoon mid-week so that we could relax, explore local attractions and shop. While Big Bear has given in to chains like Starbucks, Carl’s Jr. and even Big 5 Sports, the town still has an array of quaint shops, many clustered in the Village at Big Bear. Thankfully, the Village is unlike the generic shopping villages that have popped up at so many mountain resorts.
We walked the few blocks of boutiques and eateries that comprise the Village, stopping in a few novelty shops, like the Brown Bear Gift Shop and Bear Essentials, the latter where my son, a fan of Brave, got a child’s bow and rubber-tipped arrow set, with a whittled bear for a handle. The bear-themed toy was one of about a hundred bear encounters we had in Big Bear, as the town is bear crazy, with bear décor and businesses with “bear” in the name at every turn. Ironically, the grizzlies for which the town is named no longer live there, but the ubiquitous carved bears crawling into windows and bear statues standing on their hind quarters in front of stores show no sign of endangerment.
Spring is in the Air, and Snow is on the Mountain
Snow Summit Mountain Resort has the reputation as the more family friendly of the two main resorts, owing in part to its Family Fun Park, featuring small jumps, bumps and rollers for kids and learners, and loud speakers reminding guests to maintain slow speeds and ski with care.
Snowboarders tend to favor Bear Mountain, especially because of its halfpipe and superpipe features. Despite the signs on the chair lift poles declaring, “With courtesy skiers and snowboarders can enjoy the slopes together,” the reality is that many skiers would rather not share the mountain with the reckless riders who barrel down trails too close to them and their children, and many snowboarders resent the slow moving two-plankers and kids, or “bowling pins,” that get in the way of the jumps and jibs they love boost over and catch air.
Overall we had a pleasant ski experience at both resorts, though when my son wandered toward the side of one of the jumps at Bear Mountain, a Shaun White look-alike bombed by us yelling, “Get that kid outta here!” Then he stopped to apologize for his tone and explained he was just concerned for my son’s safety.
At both resorts, we found spring skiing had some terrific advantages — extremely short lines for chair lifts and equipment rentals and less crowded runs compared to winter, though the snow was slower and mushy by early afternoon from the sun, and the resorts opened at 9 am instead of 8 am, and the mountains closed at 4 pm, with no night skiing.
Another advantage to visiting Big Bear in spring is clear roads, no chains required. We drove up in a KIA Soul, which got great mileage and handled capably on the curvy mountain roads, which comprise about 35-45 minutes of the 110-mile, three-hour drive from LA. The fold-down seat in back allowed us to store two sets of skis and a snowboard plus all of our luggage for the trip, and despite driving in the mountains, we had SIRIUS Satellite Radio reception the entire trip and could monitor the commute on SIRIUS Traffic. As a bonus, KIA is the official vehicle of Big Bear Mountain resorts, so we were offered rock star parking by the attendants.
While Big Bear is best known for its snow sports, there are a number of great rear-round and summer activities and attractions on the mountain, such as the Big Bear Fishing Adventures, Alpine Zipline Tours, Big Bear Off-Road Adventures, the Alpine Slide at Magic Mountain, and the Wolf Mountain Sanctuary, home to Istas Pejuta, one of the wolves filmed for Twilight Saga: New Moon movie. So even after the snow melts, there will still be plenty of (wooden) big bears on their haunches, standing all around Big Bear, to welcome you.